Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quick & dirty book reviews

Quick & dirty book reviews

I have recently really enjoyed the short book reviews and recommendations posted by Temerity Jane and Swistle. I've also ripped through seven enjoyable books in the past few months and recognize there's no chance I'll ever sit down and write a full review for each one. And so, some quick & dirty book reviews:

American Canopy: the Role of Trees in the Shaping of a Nation by Eric Rutkow

Pretty much exactly what the title says - this is a history of the US as it relates to the history and management (and mismanagement) of its forests. There's a lot of history of the timber industry and of early city building. It was a little dry but not bad if you like nonfiction of this kind. It did take me quite a long time to get through it, but I didn't feel like it ever dragged.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I loved Grahame-Smith's Unholy Night so I wanted to give this one a try. I found it quite enjoyable. I have a crap memory for history, so I don't know how much was accurate and how much was embellished for the author's purposes. It was obviously really well-researched and very entertaining. I'm going to watch for the movie on Netflix, too.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

I'm a diehard fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series but had never read any of Stephen Baxter's work. I wasn't sure about this one since classic sci-fi is not usually my bag, and the first bit introducing the all-powerful faceless corporation had me worried, but the story picked up pretty quickly and I really liked it. I didn't recognize any definite Pratchett-influence in the book other than a character named Lobsang (a name used in several Discworld books) and there aren't any really funny parts, but this was a solid and enjoyable read. My only big complaint is that I wish the ending had been a little more final. I don't mind an obvious sequel-setup, but I do prefer a decent wrap-up that feels like a stopping point.

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

Pretty standard Jennifer Weiner, but recommended if you like her work. I read this one in one day. No horribly traumatizing twist ending. (I'm still not over Certain Girls.)

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich

This is the second book in JE's Lizzy and Diesel series and was not bad at all. It's what I'd classify as a popcorn book - like a popcorn movie - nothing intellectual or earth-shattering, but decently mindless fluff. I like the characters, the book didn't feel as stale as most of her recent Stephanie Plum books, and Carl the Monkey wasn't nearly as annoying as in the first Wicked book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This book is wonderful, but awful, but wonderful. Previously I had only read one John Green book (An Abundance of Katherines), which I didn't dislike but didn't love, but so many people that I follow on Twitter L-O-V-E John Green that I wanted to read another. This is a book about a teenage girl with terminal cancer, but it frequently made me laugh out loud. This is the kind of book that makes it obvious that people who refuse to read YA fiction are missing out on some seriously great stuff. It's lovely, beautifully-written, and just about perfect as novels go. I will say as a parent it was VERY hard to think about a kid with cancer and I pretty much wanted to put my child right into a sterile bubble as soon as I finished it, but other than that, no complaints. I'm betting this will turn out to be my favorite book of the year.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

This is a fantastic creepy ghost story and another one-day read. As much as I love the cover, I kind of wish they'd gone with something less girl-centric just because I worry no teenage boy will want to read it and this is definitely a book for boys or girls (or men or women, for that matter). I'm going to try to get MB to read it since he likes the series Supernatural so much and this had a few similar elements. Overall - very cool, very creepy, the climactic ghost-reveal had me squirming and hand-flapping and emailing the friend who recommended it in ALL CAPS OH MY GOD NOOOOO SO CREEPY. I am kind of easily-incited to that level of creeped-out, so your reactions may vary, but this one gets my full recommendation.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crafty (not like a fox)

Crafty (not like a fox)

My message board friends have done a Secret Santa exchange for years now, which is always seriously fun. A few years ago we switched to doing Christmas in July to cause less stress on people's holiday budgets, which has worked out really well. It's fabulous to get a really neat present in the middle of the summer. Everyone posts a list of likes and dislikes and ideas and then we draw via Elfster. This year I drew my hilarious friend Rachel and wanted to do a really good job on her gift. She had wine charms on her wish list and she loves anything French, so I set out to make her some French-themed wine charms. I got the base idea from a set of DIY wine charms MB received for Christmas last year from Nie. She drilled holes through various dice from d20 sets and put them on hoop earrings, which works pretty well, but I wanted a more secure ring since the earrings tend to unhook themselves. I ran my specs (thin enough to directly thread beads onto, some kind of closing mechanism that would stay closed) by my mom, she of epic crafting experience, and she found the perfect rings at Hobby Lobby:

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Since they're called stemware hoops, I kind of suspect they're intended to be used to make wine charms, and they definitely were exactly what I wanted. I found some fantastic Eiffel tower charms on Etsy for a ridiculously-reasonable price and ordered ten. These are the charms I got, but I got them from this shop (the exact ones I bought appear to be sold out in her shop right now) and she was awesome. The charms got to me right away, they were exactly what I wanted, and she sent a little sample packet of other cute charms she offers. The most challenging part turned out to be finding pretty non-plastic beads that would fit onto the rings. I ended up finding the perfect beads at the Jo-Ann store - the label says they're 2/0 Czech glass e-beads. I bought one tube of mixed colors and one tube of clear. Then I futzed around with the number of beads, the pattern of beads, the order of color / clear, and after five or six attempts I found a pattern I liked. I was able to pull together sets of three beads in ten different colors from my variety tube, and ta-daaa: DSCF0002

She also wanted bookmarks that won't fall out of her books. So I googled "bookmarks that stay in books" (seriously) and found this tutorial. I wanted to use a thinner elastic with a less-obvious knot, so I tried using stretch magic, a thin plastic / elastic beading cord. That was a big fail. There wasn't quite enough stretch and the cord was too slippery to hold a knot. I called my mom again and sure enough, she had 1/8" sewing elastic that turned out to be just the thing:


Instead of knotting the top, I stitched the ends together to make a flatter join and they turned out pretty nice. I sized one for mass market paperbacks, one for trade paperbacks, and one for hardbacks. Maybe her daughter will just end up stealing them for makeshift headbands, but I wanted to try.


The package was a big hit and I'm still gloating a little over how well the wine charms turned out. Maybe I need to find someone else who likes wine and make more!

Reading:  Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich

Playing:  old mix CDs

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two and a half

Two and a half

Nico turned two and a half on the 15th and holy cats, is he letting us know. For the past week or so he has been bringing some serious toddler assholery to the table. I hate to say it about my usually-sweet little ball of sunshine, but when it gets to the point where I'm standing over his changing table wailing "Where is my child?"…well, I gotta call that like I see it. I'm trying not to despair because it's probably a phase, it's always a phase. Currently, though, I can't brush his teeth without a huge battle. He'll fight a nap all afternoon and then fall apart long before bedtime. He'll look right at me and laugh and then do something he's been firmly told not to do. Like bounce himself off the glass shower door. (No, no, and hell no.) He likes to make his own choices, which I am totally fine with, and I'll even allow a mind-change. But not three or four or five. Not "Gray socks. Red socks. Gray socks. GRAY SOCKS! NO, RED SOCKS RED SOCKS REEEEEED BUWAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" Not that this has ever happened to me while my child thrashed around on the floor and tried to kick me in the head to escape the horrible oppression of the socks he insisted he wanted to wear. (Now you ALL want a baby, don't you? DON'T YOU?)

He also has not been eating well and keeps insisting he's not hungry, that he only wants to drink milk. We'll offer him every healthy and semi-healthy option available and he'll stubbornly maintain "Not hungee yet. Just mulk." I'm trying not to get twisted around the axle of it because I never want food to be a battle, but he's definitely straining the limits of my "he'll eat what he needs when he needs it" parenting philosophy. He's not wasting away and he still seems full of energy, so for now I guess we'll just keep offering him food until he decides he wants some. Seriously, though, kid…would it kill you to eat a sandwich and ease your mother's mind?

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My baby is getting to be a big boy. With ridiculous eyelashes.

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We managed to mostly circumvent the teeth-brushing meltdown by giving him a grownup toothbrush. We'll see if it works again tomorrow night.

Despite all this, despite how utterly exhausting he can be, two and a half is also kind of awesome. He's full of words and ideas, he's trying new things and gaining confidence. The other day at the library he made a little paper camping tent, which then became a cake, which then became "the biggest piece of huckleberry pie" from a Pooh story he likes. After long months of utter indifference he now loves to scribble in his coloring books with crayons and will tell me all the colors, including the fancy ones like dandelion and "red purple" (red violet). He usually says thank you without prompting and sometimes spontaneously wraps his arms around my neck, lays his head on my shoulder, and says "I yuv you." He may be trying his hardest to break me against the rocks of his tiny will, but at least the voyage is still pretty amazing.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

What I was doing instead of posting

What I was doing instead of posting

1. Cooking in a record heat wave (which thankfully broke before this week's work summer camp).

Heat wave
2. Taking Nico to his first 4th of July fireworks show. He had a good time running around outside but was not a fan of the actual fireworks. Oddly, it seemed to be the flashes and not the sound that bothered him. He spent the whole show with his hands firmly over his eyes. He didn't cry, though!

3. Baking banana bread with Nico. It took twice as long as it would to do it by myself, but he was so proud to be helping.

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4. Growing gigantor squash plants

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5. Witnessing transformation of tiny tadpole into the tiniest, cutest, squee-inducingest frog of all time

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6. Writing seven pages of fiction that I may eventually be brave enough to post here. Hooray!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

backyard birds

Backyard birds

We have hawks in our backyard! Well, not in our backyard, but hanging around the general area. I first noticed them earlier this Spring and deduced that they have a nest in the gigantic sweet gum tree across the side street from our garage. I'd hear them chattering and calling and sometimes see a parent bird coming and going. Two or three times one of the parents perched on the power pole by our garage while I was working in the garden - never when I had my camera, naturally. Every now and then I'd see a hawk fly by high overhead while I was out in the garden or yard. On Memorial Day I saw two of them bickering as they flew across, then a week or so later I saw one still obviously a little shaky on its wings taking a practice flight while a bunch of smaller birds followed along, bitching loudly. I didn't see any sign for a bit, then I saw one swoop over the yard with some kind of small prey in its talons, then nothing.

I realized I'd probably missed my chance to catch a photo and started to think that they'd moved on from the neighborhood. But sometime last week our next door neighbor asked if I'd seen the hawks around, "eating the little birds for breakfast," which renewed my hope that they hadn't left just yet. Which brings us to last night, when I looked up from dinner and saw a familiar silhouette perched on the power pole. I grabbed my camera and went outside and there were four hawks on the power lines above our yard! I think one was the mother and the rest were her nearly-grown chicks…they were all about the same size, but the suspected-mother flew off and then called back and forth with the remaining three from a nearby tree for quite a while. I got the best shots I could (which admittedly are pretty terrible…my camera is not built for NatGeo style zooming) and went back inside to finish eating. Happily, one hawk came back later while I was out doing very unfair things to our really annoying overgrown magnolia bush and Nico was out playing, so I got to show him the hawk.

"See that bird up there, buddy? That's a hawk!"

"It's a hawk! Hawk say whooo whooo whooo."

"Actually, hawks say Eeeee! Eeeee! Eeeee!


After staring at them and comparing hawk calls on All About Birds, I think they're red-shouldered hawks. I'm kind of ridiculously geeked out about them. I'm not much of a birdwatcher, but birds of prey are just cool.


Not the best quality (sorry), but here's a short clip of them calling:

And for fun, Nico "helping" me water the garden the other night:

Reading:  The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Playing:  Nico's mix